Is There a “Right” Way to Parent?


Maybe your child screams for an hour because you won’t let them eat another piece of candy. Perhaps your son is the only one dramatically clinging to your leg at preschool drop-off. Or your daughter throws food and causes a scene at a restaurant. You begin to wonder:

“Am I doing something wrong?”

I think all parents ask themselves this question at some point. I ponder this all the time, and my children are young. Just wait until I hit the teenage years!

We have all wondered, “Is there a ‘right’ way to parent?” And if there is, did I miss the memo?

Parenting Styles Research

During my studies in Psychology and Counseling, I learned some fascinating information about parenting styles. In 1966, the researcher Diane Baumrind began to outline and describe three different parenting styles. Other researchers built on her groundbreaking work. In 1983, Maccoby and Martin described a fourth parenting style. These four main styles have been generally accepted in the field. 

“Parenting Style” is categorized based on the level of Love/Affection and the level of Control/Discipline exhibited by parents. So a parent can be rated high or low in Love/Affection towards their child. They are also rated as being either high or low in their degree of Expectations/Control over their child. This means that a parent can fall into one of four categories or parenting styles.

Is There a "Right" Way to Parent? A Summary of Parenting StylesThe Four Parenting Styles

Authoritative: High Love and High Discipline

Authoritative parents display high levels of warmth, affection, and love towards their children. They also have high expectations for their children, enforce rules, and discipline when needed. They generally have a lot of control and involvement in their children’s lives

Permissive: High Love and Low Discipline

Permissive parents also display a great deal of affection and warmth, but they do not demand or expect a lot from their children. These parents may function more like a “friend” than a “parent.” Although they love their children, they do not often intervene with discipline. They may allow problematic or difficult behaviors. They have low levels of control over their children’s life and decisions.

Authoritarian: Low Love and High Discipline

Authoritarian parents are stern and cold, rarely displaying warmth towards their children. They have strict rules and expectations. Discipline is common, and these parents exhibit a high degree of control in their child’s lives (e.g., Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music before he falls in love).

Neglectful: Low Love and Low Discipline

Neglectful parents could be stern, cold or indifferent, but they rarely show affection and love. They do not set rules or expectations for their children. Their children make their own decisions and behave as they please because the parent is very disengaged.

Which style is best?

According to a substantial body of research, children with authoritative parents have the best long-term outcomes. Remember: authoritative parents exhibit high levels of affection as well as high levels of discipline and high expectations. Their children exhibit a wide range of desirable traits, including better self-esteem, higher academic achievement, lower levels of mental illness and delinquent behaviors, and better social skills than children whose parents come from the other three categories.

What does this mean for me?

As a parent living the day-in and day-out struggles of parenthood, these studies encourage me to love my children unconditionally and to constantly display my affection for them. They also encourage me to set high standards and embrace my role in teaching and guiding them through their early years. I’m reminded that discipline, when used appropriately, is another form of love. So when their little eyes fill with frustration and anger because I sent them to time-out, I can remind myself that I love them enough and I care about their future enough to endure this tough moment. When I tell them that I will carry them out of Target kicking and screaming if they misbehave ONE MORE TIME, I will sure as heck do it because I love them enough to endure public embarrassment just to teach them a lesson about boundaries and respect.

I’ll be honest. Discipline is hard for me. Loving them, showing affection, comes easily. These studies indicate that parents should seek to do a lot of both.



Baumrind, D. (1966). Effects of authoritative parental control on child behavior. Child Development, 37(4), 887-907.

Maccoby, E., & Martin, J. (1983). “Socialization in the context of the family: Parent-child interaction.” Handbook of Child Psychology, Socialization, Personality, and Social Development, Vol. 4, eds. M. Hetherington and P. H. Mussen (New York, NY: Wiley), 1-101.

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 Is there a right way to parent, A Summary of Parenting Styles